There are countless variations on that theme: Would it be best to retire now or later? Should I move to Shangri-La, a less glamorous place or stay here?
Is it time to quit driving/flying my airplane/playing golf/whatever, or can I keep going until…?
Personal or financial catastrophes can take those decisions away or make them obvious. But more often conflicting visions of the meaning of life and, especially old age; sketchy life plans; and mundane, unpleasant details like shedding life’s stuff complicate addressing the question.
To illustrate how life seeps in to complicate a simple question, several months ago a gym friend invited me to join an old guys Monday dinner group at an Italian road house just outside of town. Up to a half-dozen of us flirt with Tina, a forty-something single grandmother who dotes on us, drink Perone beer, order pizza or the pasta special and have enough leftover to take home for two additional meals. And we talk about guy stuff.
To say it’s an interesting group of characters is a gross understatement. One is a sometimes jeweler who has an international clientele for his high-end gentlemen’s canes, a few equipped with daggers or pistols in their shafts. Every year, in exchange for free trips, he does shipboard entertainment classes on canes.
Sometimes a 70-year-old wealthy divorcee from Miami Beach goes along. His relationship with her has him flummoxed. Once, surreptitiously looking at his iPhone pictures, she discovered he also has a girlfriend in Lansing. Enraged, she broke up with him mid-cruise, then demanded reimbursement for her expenses. Before long she wanted to take up with him again.
Rex’s plight is scary. A successful professional, he has homes in Lansing, northwest Michigan and Florida. He is somewhat younger than me, lives alone, has chronic health problems and was hospitalized twice this winter. He’s also significantly debilitated and uses a walker.
He describes having lots of girlfriends. One drives him up north and back, if she’s not busy. In Florida a group that calls itself the “second-wives club” in his high-rise condo building meets at the pool every afternoon for drinks and sometimes dinner.
Not long ago, with both hands occupied, he misjudged a step back into his house and fell on his butt in his garage. Unable to get back on his feet, he used his cellphone to call 911. The paramedics helped him up, checked his blood pressure and pulse and, when he said he would be fine, went on their way.
The way my father managed making important decisions toward the end of his life is a model to me. At 92, he said he’d made his last trip to winter in Florida. Traveling became a chore.
My brothers and I discussed how difficult and dangerous we thought it would be for him to be literally imprisoned in his Michigan home over the winter. We talked with him separately about our concerns and he agreed to consider moving. After looking at places in the metro Detroit area and here in Lansing, he decided to move. Over the summer he sold his home, his mobile home in Florida, disposed of most of his stuff, except for a few things, like a box with 48 hand towels, and moved to a small apartment in Burcham Hills.
His home on Ridge Street had a panoramic view of farm fields and woods. His barber conversation skills served him well and he easily made new friends.
A year or so after moving here he was still a safe, if less confident, driver. A friend went through a red light and hit another car. His wife died. He was maimed. We told Dad that in case something like that happened to him, his best days might have ended the day before. He sold his car.
Regardless of whether the hold on/move on question is/not resolved, there’s work ahead. Holding on requires tightening the grip and recognizing and adjusting to uncontrollable changing circumstances. Moving on is simpler, but not necessarily easier, in that it requires transitioning to a radically new situation.
Ernie Harwell, the legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster described the possibly gut-wrenching, life-changing, moving-on process as a combination of sadness in saying goodbye to the past and saying hello to a new adventure.
Now that I’m single again someone asked me if I intended to stay in my larger-than-needed condo as long as possible. Learning from my father, I replied that if/when I’m no longer having fun here I’ll make other arrangements. Until then…